* Royal Navy major campaigns

The Royal Navy: Parlimentary Democracy

Figure 1.--The Royal Navy has played an important role in shaping not only Britain, but the modern world. The development of parlimentary democracy may have been just one impact of the Royal Navy. Cuiously the British sailor was held in very low regard for much of the history of the Royal Navy and many were not even British. This began to change in the mid-19th century. An it is at this time that the Btitish royal family, an institution which had declined in popularity, decided to tie itself to the prestige of the Royal Navy by dressing the young princes in enlisdted men's uniform. This popularized one of the most enduring boyswear style. This CDV shows a Liverpool boy in the 1890s. We know thatr because his cap tally bears the name "HMS Barracouta", a cruiser, launched in 1889.

It may be no coincidence that democracy developed first in Europe's principal naval power. Some have suggested that the Royal Navy played an important role in British democracy. Here the most obvious relationship is that the Royal Navy could protect Britain without the need of a standing army. Continental powers needed armies to maintain their independence. A strong standing army, however, could not only be used to protect a country against foreign attack, but could be used as force to establish and maintain royal absolutism. A naval force, however, could not be used to supress the domestic population. Other factors may be involved as well. One historian maintains that there is an interconnection between the influence of merchasnts, limitations on royal absolutism, naval power, and freedom. [Padfield, Maritime Power] Considerable funds were required to build and maintain a modern navy. The need to adequately fund and support the Royal Navy played a part in the development of parlimentary democracy in Britain. [Herman] The monarchy had to seek funds and taxes from Parliament. While unwilling to fund a standing army, Parliament was willing to support a navy. Thus the Royal Navy played a key role in establishing parlimentary democracies in the modern world. This has been the case in Europe with the defeat of those who sought to dominate the continent. It has also been the case in former colonies, including Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and other countries. Another historian focusing on the Royal Navy agrees, "Only flexible and integrated societies could surmount the very considerable difficulties of combining the wide range of human, industrial, technical, commercial and managerial resources required to build and fight a seagoing fleet. .... Seapower was most successful in countries with flexible and open social and political systems. They were the same that favored trade and industry, and for the same reason, for a navy was the supreme industrial activity." Other examples are the Dutch Republic and the United States. Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union do not quite fit into this thesis, but in these cases the navy was an adjunct to authoritarian/totalitarian regimes that were held in place by powerful standing armies.


Herman, Arthue. To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World.


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Created: 6:22 PM 4/27/2009
Last updated: 6:22 PM 4/27/2009